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1955: New TV channel ends BBC monopoly

VIDEO : ITA director introduced for first independent TV service

Britain's first independent television station is on air, ending the 18-year monopoly of the BBC and bringing advertisements to the airwaves for the first time.

The new Independent Television Authority (ITA) began its broadcasts with live coverage of a ceremony at the Guildhall marking the start of Britain's first-ever commercially-funded television station.

Among the speakers was the Postmaster General, Charles Hill. The Post Office is working with the ITA to provide the service, and he was quick to address concerns over advertisements.

"We shall not be bothered by a violinist stopping in the middle of his solo to advise us of his favourite brand of cigarettes," he said, "nor indeed will Hamlet interrupt his soliloquy to tell us of the favourite brand of toothpaste ordinarily used at Elsinore."

After the Guildhall banquet, the main programmes got under way.

First advertisement

They included a variety show, half an hour of drama excerpts starring Sir John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Kay Hammond, and a boxing match.

There was a final news bulletin and cabaret before the final five-minute religious programme, Epilogue, which ended the service at 2300 BST.

The first advertisement came a little more than an hour into the schedule, during the variety show.

Viewers saw a tube of Gibbs SR toothpaste in a block of ice, with a voiceover pronouncing it a "tingling fresh toothpaste" for teeth and gums.

There were another 23 advertisements during the evening, promoting products from Cadbury's chocolate to Esso petrol.

BBC under pressure

The BBC broadcast "The Donald Duck Story", profiling the Walt Disney cartoon character.

The Corporation is already coming under huge pressure as a result of the new competition from the ITA.

It is looking into the possibility of a quiz show, similar to the ITA's "Double Your Money" hosted by Hughie Green, prompting fears that the arrival of the ITA will cause a slide into lower-standard, populist programming.

Competition is also driving up costs: bidding wars have begun for artistes who before were forced to accept BBC wages. At the same time, the price of popular American imports such as "I Love Lucy" and "Dragnet" has risen from a few hundred pounds up to several thousand.

In Context
It later emerged that it was BBC Radio which staged the most effective spoiling tactic to the launch of ITV, with the death of Grace Archer, a leading character in the radio soap, The Archers.

The episode pulled in an audience of 20 million, but the BBC denied that the plot development was deliberately timed.

Independent television was at first referred to as the ITA, the name of the regulatory body charged with setting up the regional franchises. The channel is now universally known as ITV.

The initial ITV franchise was to the London area only, run by Associated Rediffusion and ABC (Associated Broadcasting Company).

Further franchises were awarded region by region until 1965, when the whole country could receive ITV.

The ITA was replaced by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) in 1972, and then by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) under the Broadcasting Act of 1990.


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